The death toll in the Periapattinam boat tragedy went up to 15 on Monday with the recovery of two more bodies.

Sources in the Coast Guard and the Coastal Security Group, which continued the search for bodies at the accident site near Vaala theevu, identified the victims as Najima (18) and Rahima (8).

Superintendent of Police Pradip Kumar said the boat driver Ayubkhan had been questioned for negligence. A case had been registered under Section 304 (A) of the IPC for causing death by negligence or rash driving.

Minister for Slum Clearance S. Thangavelan and Collector T.N. Hariharan met the relatives of victims and handed over solatium of Rs.1 lakh each for 12 families.

The incident also brought into focus illegal visits to the islands of the Gulf of Mannar, one of the hotspots of marine biodiversity in Asia. Considering its ecological importance, areas around the 21 islands have been declared as prohibited areas.

People can visit the islands only with prior approval from the authorities of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park (GMMNP) and Forest Department. People often plan daylong trips to the islands, carrying food supplies for preparing a meal.

Interaction with residents of Periapattinam revealed that feasts were often thrown on the islands to celebrate weddings. Similarly, Non Resident Indians from the Gulf and other countries would organise picnics to the islands.

Lack of awareness

Sunday's accident also highlighted the lack of awareness about the need for carrying lifejackets and life-saving equipment. More than 95 per cent of country boats do not carry lifejackets and other safety equipment.

Many country boats ferry tourists, particularly coastal people, by collecting an exorbitant fare for the illegal journey.

When contacted, M. Sundarakumar, Wildlife Warden, GMMNP, told The Hindu that 20 cases were registered for trespassing into the restricted areas in the recent past. The latest accident did not occur in the restricted area.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on Monday sanctioned Rs.1 lakh each to the kin of 15 persons. The Chief Minister expressed shock over the incident.

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